Erik Weihenmayer is quite possibly the most fearless man alive. Blind from the age of 13, you might expect Erik to have been somewhat limited by his disability. Not so. In fact, Erik has largely disregarded his blindness, and spent his life overcoming seemingly impossible challenges.
In fact Erik Weihenmayer has become one of the most accomplished adventurers in the world. Re-defining what it means to be blind, Erik has opened the minds of people around the world.
Erik took it easy at first, simply becoming an accomplished wrestler and going on to represent his state in the US National Freestyle Wrestling Championships. After graduating with a Masters in 1993 he became a school teacher, meanwhile staying active and adventurous with his hobbies rock climbing and trekking. Soon he had summitted Mount McKinley (tallest peak in the USA), then followed Kilimanjaro (tallest peak in Africa). And soon after that Erik decided to aim for the highest of them all: Mount Everest.
And in true Erik style he managed to reach the top becoming the first blind person ever to do so!
This kickass expedition has been covered in his excellent book ‘Touch the Top of The World’.
An excerpt of the book:
I had dreamed about Everest since I had begun climbing, and it was almost beyond my imagination just being here, experiencing this legendary mountain for myself. For half my life, I had been acquiring thousands of skills and special techniques that would keep me safe in the mountains. Our Everest planning had taken two years, the physical training, a year. I had run the foothills of the Rockies a hundred times, had sprained my ankles a dozen. I had shivered through endless blizzards near the tops of mountains around the world.
For two months, we had been shuttling loads up and down the mountain, while pushing through tremendous doubt and fear. So by mid May, as time dwindled away, I found myself at Base Camp, awestruck and disappointed as I thought about all we had been through to get to this point. Mike O. and I sat in our tent engaged in long conversations about what constitutes success. You could do everything right, make few blatant mistakes, and still fall short.
I worked hard not to buy into. the idea that standing on top meant tremendous success while falling a few feet short meant utter failure. This savage unpredictability was the very element I loved and hated about mountains, and made this pursuit an adventure, not just a sport. But even though I could rationalize falling short, it was no less painful.
As summer approached, temperatures rose fast. The frozen lakes surrounding Base Camp were now flowing rivers. The black ice supporting the rocky moraine had melted out around our tents, leaving them perched atop narrow, three-foot-tall plateaus of ice with the tent corners sagging over the edges. With the warmth, the icefall would become an impenetrable impasse as crevasses opened wide, avalanches raked the slopes, and ice walls crumbled.
Because of the increasing danger, climbing permits required climbers to be off the mountain by the last day in May. As yet, no one had even attempted a summit bid. A few smaller teams had been driven off the South Col by high winds and loaded snow slopes. Many teams, discouraged and homesick, had already given up and broken down their camps. On May 20, our long wait paid off; four days of high pressure were predicted. We headed up again, fighting a gusty wind blowing spindrift in our faces. It was my ninth time through the icefall, and we knew it would be our last attempt.
Erik’s pioneering Everest mission is also the subject of the multi-award-winning documentary,Farther than the Eye Can See. The documentary was ranked in the top twenty adventure films of all time by Men’s Journal. It brought home first prize at 19 film festivals and was nominated for two Emmy’s, the film beautifully captures the emotion, humor and drama of Erik’s historic ascent as well as his team’s three other remarkable ‘firsts’: the first American father/son team to summit, the oldest man to summit, and the most people from one team to reach the top of Everest in a single day. Through screenings, the film has raised over $600,000 for charitable organizations.
This footage from the film brings it home just what an amazing feat it is for a blind man to climb Everest (watch the full documentary online here):
Since that ascent, Erik has completed all of the remaining Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, including Antarctica’s Mount Vinson. He has also led mountaineering expeditions for wounded war veterans and blind Tibetan youths.
But Erik’s achievements are not ‘limited’ to mountaineering. He has also thrown himself into all manner of other sports that should surely require a bit of sight, including cycling, skiing, whitewater kayaking, and even paragliding and solo skydiving. Here’s a taste of how on earth a blind man can possibly ski:
Erik’s feats have earned him an ESPY award, recognition by Time Magazine for one of the greatest sporting achievements of 2001, induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, an ARETE Award for the superlative athletic performance of the year, the Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement award, Nike’s Casey Martin Award, and the Freedom Foundation‘s Free Spirit Award. He has also carried the Olympic Torch for both the Summer and Winter Games.
(Logically) He also made the front cover of Time Magazine.
In 1999, Erik joined Mark Wellman – the first paraplegic to climb the 3000-foot face of El Capitan, and Hugh Herr – a double-leg-amputee and scientist at Harvard’s prestigious prosthetics Laboratory, to climb an 800-foot rock tower in Moab, Utah. As a result of their successful climb together, the three formed No Barriers, a non-profit organization with a goal of promoting innovative ideas, approaches, and assistive technologies which help people with disabilities push through their own personal barriers to live full and active lives.
Erik is not the only blind kickass traveler that does things defying common sense; Caroline Casey falls in exactly the same category being the blind woman that rode an elephant across India!!
Be inspired, get inspired or use this to inspire other people….this man is just way beyond Kickass!!